Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in the forthcoming national development plan. [5704/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the role of his Department in the forthcoming national development plan. [6884/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in developing the new national development plan. [6899/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in the forthcoming national development plan. [6962/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joan Burton

Ceist:

5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in the national development plan. [7297/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (44 contributions) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

The national development plan will be published on Friday alongside the new national planning framework.

The national development plan will set out the Government's intentions for investment in public infrastructure out to 2027, grounded in the strategic investment priorities identified by each Minister and in line with the strategic outcomes developed in the national planning framework.

At the core of both the national development plan and the national planning framework is the need to secure balanced economic growth and social progress on a regional basis and between urban and rural Ireland.

The new national development plan builds on the evidence provided by the review of the existing capital plan and detailed assessment of the quality of Ireland’s existing public infrastructure and future demand, which was published in September.

Given its size and role, my Department does not have any capital expenditure allocation. However, as with other national strategies, my Department contributes to the overall approach and priorities which will be contained in the forthcoming plan.

Cabinet Committee D has provided a forum in which the preparation of the national planning framework and the national development plan were discussed in addition to a number of dedicated Cabinet meetings.

It has been clear since the middle of the Fine Gael leadership campaign that the long delayed capital plan is central to the Taoiseach's political programme. At that time, he gave the media sight of what he said was his plan, but it bore a remarkable similarity to the plan which had been before a Cabinet committee for some time. Since then there have been two major developments. First, the length of the plan has been extended to an unprecedented ten years and, second, the Taoiseach has taken control in his Department of an unprecedented marketing campaign, which, as stated by him, is due to commence in Sligo on Friday. Since Christmas I have been trying, and failing, to get simple answers from the Taoiseach about the plan. Unless he starts responding directly and without spin it will confirm that there is an element of this being a political advertising stunt and not a real and soundly based plan for the future. Can the Taoiseach give a direct assurance that no Minister has informed a State agency that its urgent priorities are to be put aside in favour of higher profile and longer term projects imposed by Cabinet?

Will he assure us Ministers are not intervening to ask that certain projects be put ahead of others without any sound due diligence appraisal of those projects?

Since the plan has been ready for some time and given the number of staff deployed to provide what the Taoiseach has claimed will be unbiased information, will he commit to announcing on Friday the number of projects that are being re-announced? I have asked this on a number of occasions. How many of the projects will have money spent on them if the Government remains in office for the maximum possible term? What I am getting at is the position on a project touted in Cork, involving a second hospital. I know that the local Minister rang the HSE to ask it to get its plan in quickly. I was contacted. In fairness, apparently the submission was made within two months. There was no comprehensive assessment of future health care needs or other needs. Not only that, the location was dictated also, although people might have different views on it. Interestingly, when I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Harris about this, I suggested it might be a ten-year project. He said it will be a 15-year project. I take it that means a 20-year project. Meanwhile, we have a theatre that caters for approximately half the population of patients with neck and throat cancers that is about to be condemned by HIQA.

Part of me is saying to the Taoiseach that, on the roads in Cork, we would love to get to the Dunkettle roundabout. We want the Cork-Limerick route. The Taoiseach stopped that three years ago. He mothballed it. Now there is a big hurrah over re-announcing it but I have no timelines. I have asked TII but it cannot give me any timeline or schedule. Everyone in Cork would love to get to the Dunkettle roundabout and have it updated. There really needs to be a focus on the here and now, that is, on the period between now and 2020, regarding what exactly will happen with key imperatives across the board in so many areas.

As we now know, both the national planning framework and national development plan will be published on Friday. I have already asked the Taoiseach a number of questions on the legislative underpinning of the planning framework. I wish to ask him a few more specific questions. As part of the development of the framework, there was an economic and demographic steering group put in place. Has it met to consider the major changes made to the plan in recent weeks? Have new population and investment figures been prepared? Will they be published on Friday? Has the national development plan for capital investment been adjusted in recent weeks to take account of these changes? What evidence base is being used to decide where the capital investments will take place? Will all the data be published on Friday in tandem with the publication of both plans?

Will the Taoiseach, after a little more reflection, talk about the statutory underpinning of the national planning framework? Is it his Government's proposal to continue to enact the Bill that is currently before the Seanad and let it become law, having already made it ineffective in that its requirement for pre-publication of authorisation by these Houses will already have been subverted? Will the Government rely on the 2010 Act to give statutory underpinning, or will there be a different type of underpinning for the new spatial strategy which is to be published on Friday?

I have a number of questions on this. The national planning framework has got a lot of airing in the past week. The issue I want to emphasise, in particular, concerns infrastructure and our rail network. If provided for properly and correctly, rail transport is a solution to many of our transport problems. A proper, adequate rail network is critical if we are to reduce commuter times, reduce carbon emissions and bolster our public transport system. I would like the Taoiseach to confirm that the revised proposal reported yesterday, that is, that more of the metro north will go underground to alleviate traffic congestion, will feature as part of the national planning framework to be announced on Friday? Will the Taoiseach set out the plans being put in place to expand and improve DART services? Will they include they expansion and electrification of the Maynooth and Drogheda lines? Will the Taoiseach also confirm that the DART underground has effectively been scrapped at this stage?

I welcome the visit of the Taoiseach and his colleagues to Sligo in my constituency on Friday. I hope he recognises that the western rail corridor is meant to start in Sligo, as committed to in the programme for Government. That commitment ought to be upheld. Will the Taoiseach inform us that it is not the case that the extension to the national rail corridor will not be included in the national development plan? The western rail corridor is critical, not just for transport but also in the context of Brexit. Bearing in mind the volume of exports from this country to Europe, it should be noted that the western rail corridor extends from Sligo to Galway to Limerick, and then across to Waterford port. The latter could be critical in the context of exporting many of our goods. If Brexit goes ahead in the way the British Government seems to be pushing it, going through its jurisdiction to have our goods exported to Europe would be a major problem. The western rail corridor could be a critical part of our plan to address this. I would like to hear the Taoiseach's reassurances in respect of this.

What can we expect in terms of the provision of housing under the capital plan? Today, we have had further evidence of the failure of the Government's policy to deal with spiralling house prices. An increase of 12.7% has just been reported. This is on top of the news yesterday of an 81% increase in rent since 2010. It seems as if the Government's solution to all this is to say that, at some point, the private sector will ramp up supply to the point that prices will fall. This is such a fantasy but it is never scrutinised.

With the exception of disastrous economic crashes of the kind we had in 2008, prices and rents never fall. They are not going to fall over the medium or longer term, yet the Government's whole housing strategy is based on the fantasy that the market will at some point lead to a reduction in the price of property. I put it to the Government that the only way this could happen is if there were a very dramatic ramping up of State provision of housing. What can we expect in terms of not-for-profit housing whose price and rent we control? What plan can we expect for the State provision of housing to deal with the needs of our country over the period of the plan?

The Taoiseach attended the opening of the new Luas line to Broombridge, and he was very happy to take credit for it. It involves a significant public investment. We will possibly see more in the plan on Friday. On average, people's journey time on Dublin Bus is now 30 minutes longer because of the confusion and chaos associated with the testing of the new trams. For people making a 1.5 hour journey into town from the western suburbs, this is an enormous imposition.

The Taoiseach was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when the project was agreed. The Minister for Finance was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when the project was being substantially completed. Deputy Shane Ross is now the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Where is the whole-of-Government approach? With regard to the chaos on the quays and in the city centre, it is fine for the Taoiseach to say that in a couple of months when we have eight long trams, the problems will somehow melt away.

The reason anybody is a Minister or Taoiseach is he or she has executive powers to address problems and this problem is not being addressed. The public transport provision included in the national development plan is beginning to slip away. It looks like the reference to the electrification of the rail line to Maynooth is gone, although there will be electrification of the line to Balbriggan. The Government has made it a ten-year plan. That adds a couple of years to big up the total amount of money the Government is proposing to spend in the message the Taoiseach and his 34 Ministers will launch on Friday. Thirty four Ministers plus the Taoiseach is 35. We will have this parade of 20 Ministers of State and 15 Cabinet Ministers, including the Taoiseach. It is a case of it taking 35 Ministers to fix a light bulb - in this case to launch a development plan which has been going around the houses. I for one am confused about what is the real commitment to public transport initiatives that will start and be built within a five-year timescale. We will then be able to see what the carryover is for the next five years.

A shiver ran down my spine this morning. I heard the Taoiseach say the Opposition was jealous because he had €115 billion to spend. I closed my eyes and felt I was 39 years old again and that I was listening to Bertie Ahern who said the same thing when he was Taoiseach in 2002. The Taoiseach went on to say the Opposition had approved the draft plan. I fundamentally disagree. I opposed the draft national planning framework. I agree with Mr. Edgar Morgenroth who is an expert in this area. He was correct in what he said the other day on "Morning Ireland", that it was a recipe for ongoing sprawl. The Government's emphasis is on having motorways everywhere and pretending that that improves urban life, but that is a complete fallacy which it seems the Taoiseach has inherited from the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

I hear there is no reference in the plan to a DART interconnector. Is that true? Can one possibly make this city work without connecting up the rail lines which we should have done ten years ago, as well as a metro system? In the provisional plan there were no public transport projects in Cork, Galway, Limerick or Waterford. There is no sustainability and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport does not seem to have a care in the world on that issue.

The key question I have is whether the Government has climate proofed the plan. Can it show and prove to us that it will do something different from what is in the national mitigation plan which the Taoiseach himself said in Strasbourg was not good enough. He said we were a climate change laggard. If the Government was drawing up the national development plan in a climate proofed way, it would be helping the country to move towards a different planning system and doing what it was meant to do, namely, bringing life back to the centre and making it efficient and the country work. I do not hear that but the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

The batch of questions we are discussing relate to the role of my Department in the new national development plan. While my Department has a role in it, we did not write the plan or anything like it.

The Taoiseach is just going to market it.

Members have asked quite a number of detailed questions about process and procedure which would best be addressed to line Ministers such as the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. There were many detailed questions on transport which would best be addressed to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross.

He does not answer questions.

Good luck with that.

I will answer questions on the extent to which my Department has a role in the forthcoming national development plan, but I will not be able to answer questions on behalf of three other Ministers in detail. It is not correct to say the plan has been long delayed. When I contested the leadership of my party in June, I committed to the publication by the end of 2016 of a ten-year infrastructure investment plan. Therefore, it is about six weeks late.

No; it was promised before that.

It was promised for 2017.

In the greater scheme of things I do not think it is very late. The nature of a ten-year plan is that it includes all sorts of project in the pipeline for construction. Infrastructure takes time to provide. It has to be planned, designed, go through the planning process and be built. It then has to be opened. Perhaps, therefore, the ten-year plan will include anything that will incur costs during the ten-year period. That will include projects under construction. Members will know that after many decades in which no new hospitals were built in Ireland-----

What about Tullamore?

-----we now have three under construction. Of course, they will be included because the cost will arise in the period of the plan.

That is pathetic stuff. The Taoiseach should stop being so childish.

It will also include others that have yet to go through the planning process and still others that will start in the course of the plan. The nature of a ten-year plan is that it will include projects at all points in the pipeline of construction and development.

I reassure Deputy Micheál Martin that I have not taken charge of any marketing or PR exercise, with which I know that he is obsessed. Any marketing of the plan will be directed by the director of the communications unit, not by me.

The Taoiseach appointed him.

There will be a very good-----

He does not talk to the Taoiseach at all.

The Taoiseach is just a commentator.

Does the Taoiseach ever meet the director of the communications unit?

There will be a very good health package involving a multibillion euro investment that is much needed in ICT, which is the game changer for the health service in new hospitals. The hospitals in Tullamore and Tallaght were probably the last to be built in this country, probably more than ten years ago, possibly even in the last century; therefore, it is great that we are now building hospitals again. There are three under construction and another is due to go to tender this year. A couple of more are likely to be included in the plan.

They have all been announced already.

There will also be investment in primary care centres and to implement the maternity strategy and the trauma strategy. It is a very good package. While we have high levels of spending on health services in Ireland, historically we have underspent in capital investment. A lot of our buildings, equipment and information technology is out of date. We can really change the health service by investing in them.

Deputy Micheál Martin is correct that I did defer the N20 project. I also deferred projects in my constituency, including metro north and metro west. I will never forget the decisions that had to be made in those early years after my party came to office in 2011.

The Taoiseach did not have to make that decision.

The metro project was included in an earlier plan.

I refer to the decisions we had to make to pare back budgets and we know why those decisions were made.

No; provision had been made.

It was because a different party and Government had driven the country over the cliff and bankrupted the State. As a result, major reductions had to be made in capital spending.

We now have an opportunity to put that right and re-initiate some of the projects.

I was interested to hear Deputy Eamon Ryan tell us what should have been done ten years ago. I wonder who was in government ten years ago.

We had the metro project which we guaranteed, but the Government killed it. It was the perfect countercyclical project.

Your economic planning killed it.

All of those things could have been done. Deputy Eamon Ryan also indicated that I had said people were jealous. I did not say anyone was jealous. He also misquoted Mr. Edgar Morgenroth. It may be that he is once again hearing things and forgetting the fact that he was a member of the Government ten years ago.

Deputy Brendan Howlin asked about legislation. The legislation to which he referred has to be brought back to the Dáil, even after it has been debated in the Seanad; therefore, it may be some time before it is enacted by both Houses and becomes law.

Does the Government plan to amend it?

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government tells me that the new national planning framework, NPF, can be placed on a statutory footing and that a motion on it was sent to the Oireachtas joint committee where it was not opposed and no vote was called on it. The committee made a submission which is being considered by the Minister. Much of it has been taken on board and integrated into the plan.

Has it been brought back to the House?

On rail services, I am not in a position to make announcements today. Decisions will be made on Friday and then announced. Speaking as a former transport Minister and somebody who is interested in the issue, especially railways, heavy railways, in particular, are very expensive to build and once they are built, if they do not carry significant passenger numbers, they are very expensive to operate. When one is prioritising spending on rail services, the first thing one needs to prioritise is safety. A lot of the investment needs to go into existing rail lines to improve safety. The second thing one needs to do is deal with congestion. Some train lines are very heavily used, while others are not. We need to reduce congestion and increase frequency and line speeds on the heavily congested lines. If one is to build new additional train lines, they need to be subjected to a proper appraisal. I refer to such things as a net present value and a benefit to cost ratio. The commitment on the western rail corridor in the programme for Government is not to build or complete it but to carry out such an appraisal of such a benefit to cost ratio. The last time it was done it came out negatively at a cost of 100 against six - 100 being the cost and six the benefit.

Most rail projects come out around 100 to 80. It did not come out of that well and had a negative net present value over 30 years. Indeed, that turned out to be optimistic. Passenger numbers are now half what they were projected to be at this point. They were supposed to be 200,000 after five years. Moreover, the cost of building came in higher.

However, that is not to say that we cannot examine it again or examine doing further sections of it, but we would of course have to do full and proper appraisal and cost-benefit analysis. It would not be justifiable to proceed with a project in full knowledge of how the assessment came out. I imagine Deputies will agree that is the right approach to proper planning and use of taxpayers' money.

Reference was made to social housing. Housing is of course going to be comprehended by the ten-year investment package. Among the things committed to are things that already exist to a certain extent. These include a major ramp-up in the amount of social housing and the amount of public housing owned by local authorities or on behalf of local authorities. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, through his leadership and that of his Department, increased the social housing stock by 7,000 last year through several methods. There were three times as many direct builds last year than in the year before it. Other measures include acquiring properties from developers and other private owners, bringing voids back into operation and long-term leasing. Obviously, that will have to continue and escalate. The Minister has also made a proposal relating to cost rental whereby the State or State actors can build apartments and houses and offer them for rent.

We will have to leave it there, Taoiseach, because there are other questions.